There was a time when the logical thing to do for the 76ers and their impending free agents was to run it back.
The belief was that Sixers would re-sign Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to five-year, maximum-salary deals and lock in JJ Redick on a multi-year deal. The plan was to keep their core group, which includes All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, intact for an NBA title run this upcoming season.
But the players and team will have options when free agency begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“They have tough decisions to make and so do we,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said.
The Sixers need to shore up the backup point guard and center positions. They could also use a power forward who can fill in for Embiid at center if need be.
“We definitely need hard-nose players, shooting,” Brand said of sought-after free agents. “We want to add shooting. If you watch the playoffs, these are playoff-tested players … I don’t want to say names … but [the Sixers want] veteran-tested players, playoff-tested players that can take us over the edge with our talent.”
Don’t be surprised if the Sixers attempt to pursue Boston’s Al Horford, Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, and Toronto’s Danny Green among others if they don’t bring all of their top free agents back. The team has some level of interest in all three players.
Harris and Redick are unrestricted free agents. Butler will join them once he opts out of the final year of his contract. All three are garnering interest throughout the league.
Butler is the four-time All-Star, but Harris, 26, will be the more sought-after free agent due to being younger and having less baggage.
The 29-year-old didn’t get along with younger players in his stops with Chicago and Minnesota. And while the Sixers downplayed it, teams are concerned about his well-publicized verbal altercation with coach Brett Brown. Yet, he’s proven to be a valuable member for a team making a postseason push.
The Sixers, having Bird rights on both players, can offer Butler and Harris five-year, $189 million maximum salary contracts. Other teams can only offer a four-year, $141-million deal.
Harris is meeting with teams on June 30 and July 1. Brooklyn, Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans, and Memphis are among the teams that intend to pursue him. Don’t be surprised if his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers, get into the mix.
The Clippers’ top free-agent choices are Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson.
Leonard opted out of the final year of his contract with Toronto on Sunday becoming an unrestricted free agent. According to Yahoo, Leonard is “seriously considering re-signing.”
Meanwhile, the expectation was that Durant would leave Golden State for the New York Knicks before rupturing his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of NBA Finals. So he’ll be sidelined for this upcoming season. Several teams are expected to still offer him the maximum salary.
Thompson, another Warriors standout, will miss most of next season after tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the Finals. He’s expected to re-sign with the Warriors.
With Durant and Thompson hurt, Harris could be of interest to the Clippers. His going back to Los Angeles would be a bad look for the Sixers, who gave up a lot to acquire him from the Clippers in February.
So the Clippers would make a mockery of the Sixers if they’re able to lure Harris back. The Feb. 6 trade would be more scrutinized than giving up a future draft pick to trade up two spots to select Markelle Fultz first overall in the 2017 draft.
In addition to both squads swapping expiring contracts, the Sixers gave up sharpshooting Landry Shamet and four draft picks — including a protected 2020 first-rounder and the unprotected 2021 Miami Heat first-rounder — for Harris.
Aside from his reported interest in the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, and his willingness to talk to the Miami Heat, Butler’s free-agent talk has been quiet. However, his list of maximum-salary suitors will become known once Leonard, Durant, and Kyrie Irving make their decisions.
Butler, a swingman, was the team’s leader and arguably its most valuable player in the postseason.
In addition to his starting position, the 6-foot-8, 232-pounder served as the team’s backup point guard. Harris and Redick have been the biggest beneficiaries when the ball was in Butler’s hand in the opening-round series against the Nets. He made a conscious effort to get them the ball in spots where they thrived the most.
Butler also showed why he’s one of the NBA best players in the clutch. So the Sixers organization will probably have to offer him the five-year maximum salary to keep him.
Butler, his agent and his inner-circle will meet this week to discuss their free-agency plan.
Redick, who turns 35 on Monday, is one of the league’s top sharpshooters. He’ll definitely have the interest of several teams looking for a floor-spacer. He should demand around $12 million a year in free agency.
Yet, the Sixers must decide what’s best for the organization.
Horford, Ed Davis, and Marcus Morris will be among the pool of free-agent post players they could pursue. In regards to point guards, they could look at Brogdon, Cory Joseph, Ish Smith, and Patrick Beverly. And there will be available shooters in Green, Terrence Ross, and Seth Curry.
No one would fret if they lost one of their possible maximum-salary players and found a way to sign two impactful free agents.